Dr. Dana Woody Embodies the Essence of Community Nursing.

by | Dec 2023

DR. DANA Woody of Liberty University is a professor of nursing with a doctor of nursing practice concentrated in executive leadership. Her background is in community nursing. It is a mission she has taken very much to heart. In conjunction with the Salvation Army, she has launched a hands and feet ministry based in Lynchburg. 

“My work prior,” Dr. Woody relates, “had been working with more of the chronic disease population. I set up the first disease management clinic for congestive heart failure in Central Virginia. I was working alongside a local community-based hospital in their cardiology group. Although it’s a little different vulnerability, the diagnosis of congestive heart failure is definitely a vulnerable one. That taught me a lot. It taught me a lot regarding grassroots efforts. I’d done many, many initiatives in the community regarding public health concepts, like health promotion and disease prevention, working with many populations. Program development was kind of my thing!” 

“Lynchburg has a high incidence of poverty above the national numbers. Our vulnerability index is quite high. And so, around eight years ago, we launched the hands and feet ministry in partnership with the local Salvation Army here in Lynchburg,” said Dr. Woody. 

Her efforts involved a lot of learning and discovery. “One of the things was not necessarily understanding vulnerability in the context of the underserved and homeless.” She and her nursing students served dinners at the Salvation Army and made a concerted effort to get to know this community. 

Not surprisingly, there were trust issues within this community, and Dr. Woody and her students worked hard to gain that trust. “We had great conversations, and we had the voice of the audience. And that made all the difference.” 

“One of the interesting things was that I had worked with vulnerable populations for many years, but I don’t think I really appreciated the vulnerability as it exists. We can hear about it, and we can read about it and that sort of thing. But being present is such an amazing opportunity and taught me so much.” 

The hands and feet clinic is not for those in dire medical need (although people with serious medical issues can be referred for immediate help). “It’s more of an experience. They are coming in for the experience of having their hands washed, their feet washed, getting a manicure, and their nails back. For the homeless and the vulnerable, their feet are their transportation. Their feet take a beating because their shoes are too tight or too big, they don’t have proper footwear, or they don’t have socks. We manage that as well. 

“They come in and receive hand care or foot care — they can pick between the two or do both. Then there’s the opportunity to have a hand massage or a foot massage or have their nails painted. Alongside that, we give them a pair of new socks, and we give them blessing bags that include toiletries.” 

“Oftentimes, this population is misjudged as wanting a handout. These folks need a hand up. Our being there and walking alongside them for just a small amount of time is definitely impactful, so much so that these people come back week after week. And some year after year after year.” 

It is hard to generalize about who makes up this population in need. “There’s just a huge span. I can’t say it’s one ethnicity over another. My oldest client was around 98. I’ve also had a 2-year-old with a mom. We do see more males than females. If you look at the homeless demographic, there are more homeless males than females.” 

The challenges are many. “We had an unfortunate pickup in numbers with COVID. COVID changed everything. But not only that, we also had an uptick in violence. As a result of that, we did have to scale our outreach back just a bit for the safety of our students.” And the economic downturn has made things more complicated. 

Dr. Woody has also taken the hands and feet ministry on the road. We have been asked to do this in several other places. We could do so much more!” 

In essence, this clinic is treating an underserved, vulnerable population as human beings — human beings who deserve care, respect, and dignity. It is, in Dr. Woody’s words, “the power of presence.” And that is a very substantial power indeed. GN 

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